Choking and crying, Hong Kong protesters pinned back on campus

Choking and crying, Hong Kong protesters pinned back on campus

Police fire tear gas as protesters try to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Police fire tear gas as protesters try to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Dale de la Rey)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police laid siege to a university on Monday (Nov 18), firing rubber bullets and tear gas to pin back anti-government protesters armed with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons from fleeing amid fears of a bloody crackdown.

Dozens, choking on the tear gas, tried to leave the Polytechnic University by breaking through police lines after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.

PolyU siege infographics

READ: Hong Kong protesters remain defiant amid PolyU campus standoff with police

READ: Hong Kong protests: Security tight at PolyU with hundreds of protesters trapped on campus

Riot police (R) make arrests as protesters attempt to leave PolyU
Riot police make arrests as protesters attempt to leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

A protester is beaten by riot police Hong Kong
A protester is beaten by riot police while attempting to leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

Many protesters, dressed in regular clothes and without gas masks, made a run for it, dodging tear gas canisters and sponge grenades, only to be forced back inside.

Some were arrested, tackled to the ground, as others scrambled and tripped over barricades and fences as police pointed guns at them and threw punches.

"The police might not storm the campus but it seems like they are trying to catch people as they attempt to run," Democratic lawmaker Hui Chi-fung told Reuters.

"It’s not optimistic now. They might all be arrested on campus. Lawmakers and school management are trying to liaise with the police but failed."

Police said officers had been deployed "on the periphery" of the campus for a week, appealing to "rioters" to leave.

"All our warnings were ignored," they said in a statement. "Our message was loud and clear, the violence has escalated to rioting."

They said "toxic and dangerous chemicals" had been stolen from the university laboratory.

"We must warn that the university campus has become a powder keg where danger is far beyond what we can estimate," police said.

Police arrested 154 people aged between 13 and 54 over the weekend.

"We've been trapped here for too long. We need all Hong Kongers to know we need help," said Dan, a 19-year-old protester on the campus, as he burst into tears.

"I don't know how much longer we can go on like this. We may need international help."

A fire set by protesters burns at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
A fire set by protesters burns at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

Hong Kong protests Nov 18
A student tries to extinguish a fire at the entrance of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

THIRTY-EIGHT HURT

One 24-year-old protester, who gave his name as "Be Patient", said he nearly suffocated in the crush.

"We couldn’t move at all. The police didn’t stop ... they still used rubber bullet and sponge rounds to attack us. We’re talking about a distance of one metre."

A protester prepares to throw a glass bottle filled with chemicals onto a fire
A protester prepares to throw a glass bottle filled with chemicals onto a fire below by the barricaded main entrance of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

Protesters detained near PolyU
Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

There were also running battles in the nearby commercial area of Nathan Road where activists stopped traffic and forced shopping malls and stores to shut.

Police said a car tried to hit an officer in the nearby Yau Ma Tei district on Sunday night, reversing and trying again. Police fired a shot and the driver fled.

Thirty-eight people were wounded overnight on Sunday, the city's Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffering from burns from chemicals in jets fired from police water cannons.

Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

People are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
People are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Dale de la Rey)

Police said they fired three live rounds when "rioters" attacked two officers who were attempting to arrest a woman. No one was wounded and the woman escaped amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong's promised freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.

China says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula granting Hong Kong autonomy, while the city's police deny accusations they use excessive force.

People stand near a shop closed in the aftermath of protests in Hong Kong
People stand near a shop closed in the aftermath of protests in Hong Kong, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

Tear gas is fired by police as protesters attempt to escape
Tear gas is fired by police as protesters attempt to escape the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)
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China's foreign ministry said on Monday no one should underestimate its will to protect its sovereignty.

“If you are viewing the facts with an impartial view you can see that what is happening in Hong Kong is no longer a simple demonstration, it is a handful of violent criminals conducting violence against civilians," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing.

'UNJUSTIFIED'

The United States condemned the "unjustified use of force" in Hong Kong and called on Beijing to protect Hong Kong's freedom, a senior official in President Donald Trump's administration said.

US condemns 'unjustified use of force' in Hong Kong: Senior official

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

Chinese soldiers in a base close to the university were seen on Sunday monitoring developments at the university with binoculars, some dressed in riot gear.

Chinese troops in shorts and T-shirts, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, emerged from their barracks on Saturday in a rare public appearance to help clean up debris.

A protester holds a molotov cocktail
A protester holds a Molotov cocktail as he stands with others on the steps of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AP/Achmad Ibrahim)

A protester throws an umbrella onto a fire
A protester throws an umbrella into a fire by the barricaded main entrance of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

Chinese troops have appeared on Hong Kong's streets only once since 1997, to help clear up after a typhoon last year.

Asked about the clean-up operation, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said their efforts were welcomed by Hong Kong citizens.

The Hong Kong government invoked a colonial-era emergency law in October banning faced masks commonly used by protesters. The High Court ruled on Monday the ban was unconstitutional.

A police officer prepares to fire his weapon during clashes
A police officer prepares to fire his weapon during clashes with protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district
Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district, Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

The city's Cross-Harbour Tunnel, next to the Polytechnic university, linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula, remained closed after protesters torched a bridge above the toll booths on Sunday.

Some train services and many roads across the Kowloon peninsula were closed. All schools were shut.

The unrest poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

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Source: Reuters/ad/rw

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